Ruger’s 4” Redhawk
by John Taffin
Ruger did not make a double action .44 Magnum until nearly 25 years after the first double action Smith & Wesson arrived. With this length of learning curve they decided to build their first double action sixgun around the cartridge making it larger and heavier than the original. Ruger's Redhawk arrived in 1979 and has been proven to be an exceptionally strong revolver able to handle the heaviest of .44 Magnum loadings. When we talk Heavy .44 Magnum we mean 300 to 340 grain bullets at 1,200 to 1,400 fps. These are too heavy for the original .44 Magnums from S&W and Ruger, at least for mine which are normally confined to 250 grain bullets at 1,200 fps or less. Both old sixguns from the 1950s and this older sixgunner will last a lot longer with extended use of these loads which virtually duplicate the Heavy .44 Special loads which pre-date the .44 Magnum. I save the heavy loads for the sixguns of the last quarter of the 20th century two of which are Ruger’s big bore double actions, the Redhawk (Big Red) and Super Redhawk (Bigger Red).
Bigger Can Be Better
The .44 Redhawk represented the new wave of .44 Magnums of the '80s, big, tough, able to withstand the recoil of not only standard .44 Magnums but the new heavyweight bullet loads that were soon demanded by handgun hunters as well. Handloaders found the durable Redhawk was capable of delivering 300 grain cast bullets at 1,500 feet per second from its 7 1/2" barrel, a load that gives the .44 Magnum deep penetration on large game. Until the arrival of the Redhawk it was generally conceded single actions were stronger than double actions, however this .44 Magnum is actually larger and probably stronger than the Super Blackhawk and soon became a real favorite of handgun hunters who used 300 grain hard cast bullets over heavy doses of WW296 or H110. The first Redhawk was a 7 1/2” stainless sixgun, and was soon joined by a 5 1/2” stainless as well as blued versions of both barrel lengths. Longer barrels were at least rumored but never came to pass.
The only fault most of us can find with the Redhawk is the fact that it is difficult to get a really good trigger on Big Red. It was strange to read the account of the engineers and designers of the Redhawk as they talked about the smooth double action trigger pull and good single action pull. Not quite. My two first two Redhawks came with single action trigger pulls that measured 6 3/4 and 6 1/4 pounds. This hasn’t changed over the past 25+ years. The Redhawk gains its strength in many ways. The threaded area of the frame is very thick, double what one finds in many other sixguns, and the massive cylinder is locked at the rear and front of the cylinder itself rather than at the end of the ejector rod. The barrel carries a heavy rib and the top strap is big and brawny. The grip frame of the Redhawk was designed by Harry Sefried who also designed one of the most comfortable grips ever designed on one of the most easy pointing .22 double action revolvers, that being the High-Standard Sentinel. The grip frame and grips of the Redhawk were designed for shooting comfort, however things change dramatically with 300+ grain bulleted loads and I get nailed on the knuckle of my middle finger when shooting heavy loads with bullets in this weight class.
Cut That Barrel
A 10” barrel on the Redhawk was promised early but has never materialized, nor has any barrel shorter than 5 1/2” been offered, at least until now. A very simple custom job performed on the Redhawk has been that of cutting the barrel to 4”, mounting a Patridge front sight, and rounding the front and back corners of the bottom of the grip frame as well as the factory grips. I find one so altered will fit the Idaho Leather pancake-style holster made for a 4” Model 29 and the construction of this type of holster provides a natural channel for the front sight. With these custom touches the Redhawk becomes a candidate for Perfect Packin’ Pistol and will handle the heaviest .44 Magnum loads available including those with heavy hard cast bullets offered by Buffalo Bore, Cor-Bon, and Garrett Cartridges. With its stainless steel construction and the fact it is built for strength and endurance, the Redhawk is an awfully good choice for the outdoorsman. The Redhawk may handle these heavy loads easily but the shooter is another matter. With its smallish wooden stocks I find felt recoil with these heavy bulleted loads to be quite stout. Ruger has now solved two problems with the Redhawk; the latest version from the factory has a 4” barrel for easier packin’ and it wears totally new grips. The original Redhawk has an interchangeable front sight system, however Ruger decided to go with a fixed blade on this new 4” version using a ramp style with a red insert. I would have preferred they kept the interchangeable system and I also blacken this red insert for shooting as I can see black much easier. The balance of the shortened Big Red is pure Redhawk except for the grips. Instead of the smallish, smooth wooden stocks found on the other Redhawks these grips are newly designed, and very well carried out finger-grooved, pebble-grained rubber grips from Hogue. Most factory finger groove grips do not fit my fingers however these feel as if they were custom-made to my hand.
A Horse Of A Different Color
I treat the Ruger Redhawk much differently than my Smith & Wesson .44 Magnums. The Redhawk is big and strong and bull stout and able to handle the heaviest loads with ease; it is the Clydesdale in my stable. Its stainless-steel finish and rubber grips are perfect for every day hard outdoor use. For carrying it is matched up with a plain heavy-duty pancake style holster from Rob Leahy at Simply Rugged; capable of being worn strong side or cross strong, this leather lives up to its name. On the other hand my Smith Model 29s are fitted with custom stocks and even engraved and matched with
“It was accurate in the extreme, but we all cussed those hard trigger pulls…” was the one complaint he and others, myself included, had and he also called for a 4” version. Because of its spring set-up with the same spring powering the hammer and trigger, it has never been easy to get a light single action trigger pull on the Redhawk; however the upside is it does smooth out with use and the double action pull is better than that found on many sixguns.
For some reason Ruger has always seemed to have an aversion for placing short barrels on .44 Magnum revolvers. The original .44 Flat-Top came standard with the shortest length being 6 1/2”. I had mine cut to 4 5/8” in the late 1950s and Ruger made up a special 4 5/8” Blackhawk .44 for Keith but it would never be cataloged. The 7 1/2” Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 arrived in 1959 and it would be into the 1990s before it would be offered with a short barrel. The same held true for the Redhawk until now.
Enjoying The Redhawk
When I obtained my first Redhawk in the early 1980s I found it to be everything Keith had claimed for it and I also found it required hard cast bullets, or if wheel weights we’re used for casting it was absolutely necessary to use a gas check design to prevent leading. I added several more Redhawks to my shooting battery, a 7 1/2” .45 Colt when it became available and with the arrival of the 5 1/2” Redhawk I obtained both stainless steel and blued versions. The 5 1/2” Redhawk was found to be easier to pack than the longer version, however it wasn’t quite there yet. I gave the blued .44 to my dear friend the late Deacon Deason of BearHug Grips and had the stainless-steel Redhawk made into a more Perfect Packin’ Pistol. My local gunsmith cut the barrel to 4”, installed a black front sight on a ramp base, and slightly round butted the grip frame and factory stocks. Now I really had something!
Perfect Packin’ Pistol
My “new” .44 Redhawk carried oh so easily in an Idaho Leather pancake holster and handled standard .44 Magnum loads with ease. Hamilton Bowen also liked the idea of a shorter Redhawk and offered his 4” version as The Alpine. For me the standard Redhawk grip frame and factory stocks worked up to a point; the round-butted carried that level a little higher, however with the arrival of heavyweight bullets at 1300-1400 fps, in my hands at least even the modified factory grip frame and grips left something to be desired. Now Ruger has not only finally seen fit to offer a 4” Redhawk, they have also fitted it with stocks which handle recoil, again at least for me, much better than the original factory offering.
Ruger’s newest version of the Redhawk, at least for now, is only offered in stainless steel and chambered in .44 Magnum. Ruger President Steve Sanetti says of this new sixgun, “The Ruger Redhawk revolvers have long been recognized for their strength and durability, which are features that .44 Magnum shooters appreciate. This .44 Magnum has only a 4-inch barrel, leaving outdoor enthusiasts with no excuse to leave it at home while trekking through the woods.” Sanetti has nailed the desirability of the 4” Ruger Redhawk .44 Magnum perfectly. This is a heavy-duty, big bore sixgun which will be taken to heart by anyone who spends much time in the desert, foothills, forests, or mountains. It will carry easy in a properly designed holster and always be ready for instant use while not requiring a lot of care and maintenance. For my use the holster of choice is by Rob Leahy of Simply Rugged; it is a pancake style which can be worn strong side or crossdraw and is designed to fit tightly and cover most of the sixgun except for the grip thus providing easy access and security without resorting to security straps.
Ruger And Hogue Did It Right
This new Redhawk is, of course, the same basic sixgun appreciated by shooters for nearly three decades. It is all stainless-steel as the original, with a massive six-shot cylinder, and a solid frame with no sideplate. There are two major changes in addition to the obvious shorter barrel. Instead of the interchangeable front sight system, the 4” Redhawk has a pinned in ramp front sight with a red insert matched up with a white outline rear blade, while the stocks, instead of the standard factory wood grips are hand filling, finger grooved, Hogue rubber grips which are much more comfortable, at least for me, when firing heavy .44 Magnum loads. The surface of these Hogue grips are also appreciated for a much more secure feeling from their pebble grained, but non-punishing surface, than offered by the original smooth wood grips. They aren’t the prettiest grips around but they rate 100% for function. Matched up with the strength of the Redhawk and the stainless-steel finish one has a Perfect Packin’ Pistol for hard outdoor use. I have found I can shoot the Heavy Duty 300+ grain .44 loads through this newest Redhawk better at 25 yards than my custom wood stocked 4” Redhawk at 15 yards and I do believe this is due to the grip design of the newest Redhawk. Buffalo Bore’s 340-grain LBT load at 1,325 fps is all the recoil anyone should ever want but it is manageable in this 4” Redhawk.